Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Crystal Ball

Here's one of the latest Web sites to tap into the wisdom of crowds: Predictify. It asks users to guess the future, based on the idea that crowds are smarter than individuals. If, say, 1,733 people out of 2,000 think Delaware Senator Joe Biden will become Barack Obama's running mate, odds are it will happen, right? (There are now more than 4,600 people on the site who are competing to win a $5,500 pot for guessing the right answer.)

So far, the site has correctly predicted the outcome of nearly every playoff football game. It's also been fairly accurate guessing which films do best at the box office. Wired crowds also do pretty well guessing the fate of politicians: more than 6,000 people accurately predicted that Barack Obama would become the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee—months before it happened.

Companies, nonprofits, and political strategists are taking notice. General Motors Corp. and Paramount Pictures, for example, are sponsoring customized questions on the site, apparently frustrated by their own missed efforts to spot trends and "read" the mindset of Web-wired consumers. Stanford University graduate and cofounder Mike Agnich says some politicians and advocacy groups are using the site to hone their cause-marketing strategies.

Questions on the site range from the silly to the scientific. Will Australian Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsey utter more than 80 profanities in any original episode of his cooking show, "Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares" by September 1, 2008? (176 predictions so far). Will life be found on Mars before July 15?

But there is more here than meets the eye: over time, Agnich says, Predictify will be able to identify some of the best natural prognosticators in cyberspace—and then hire them out to paying clients looking for help with their hunches and market strategies.

Clever. For more on Predictify, take a look at Robert Scoble's interview with Agnich on Fast Company TV.

(Photograph of crystal ball by Ben Dan Hawks on Zooomr)

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